INFANTICIDE – mutilation of new-borns

If you ask people what is the most prominent feature of a rabbit, most will answer “their ears”!  And quite right they are too. A rabbit just wouldn’t be the same without its cute little lobes, whether upright or lopped. But would it?

I have come across many bunnies over the years with either one ear missing or no ears at all, and in almost all cases, this has been caused by the mother at birth. Some rabbits have ears missing and are also minus a tail or limbs!


This non-deliberate infanticide is usually due to mum getting carried away with her enthusiasm whilst cleaning her newborns, accidentally eating ears and other appendages while ingesting the umbilical cord and placenta (over-loved, as one visitor remarked). Thankfully, only in a very small minority of such cases does this result in the death of the baby due to vital parts of the body being eaten as well.

Most of these accidentally mutilated baby rabbits grow up to lead normal lives, even although they may look quite bizarre to us. If this happens to a litter of wild rabbits, they may be at a disadvantage as they need all their senses, including acute hearing, to survive, and having no ear lobes at all could well affect the ability to detect a predator in time.


I have found that some female rabbits have a tendency towards infanticide, mutilating one or more baby out of every litter they have. Others, however, do not repeat the behaviour, the cause possibly being linked to inexperience or environmental stress.

Our most recent example of the results of infanticide at CottonTails® rabbit and guinea pig rescue was Bella, a sooty fawn female of about six months old who has only one ear. This wasn’t the only surprise, however. Within a day of her arrival at the rescue centre, she gave birth to a litter of seven, all intact and all doing well. She will be neutered and put up for adoption, accompanied by a suitable partner.

Having bits missing can prove to be a problem due to many potential adopters not wanting (as they see it) an imperfect pet. However, I have found some lovely homes for our funny little bunnies in the past, so let’s hope that Bella is no exception and that she will be offered a caring new home soon where she will be valued and loved for who she is, despite her differences!

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